Welcome to Fix It, our weekly series examining projects we love — save for one tiny change we wish we could make.
The Witcher on Netflix is a wonderful adaptation of the Polish fantasy series, spanning a handful of exciting individual stories from the original novels to weave together a dramatic, overarching narrative.
The problem is, many of these stories take place in different time periods within the universe, and the show routinely bounces back and forth between them. It gives me temporal whiplash, and a simple way to alleviate that would be to add a bit of text on screen indicating when scenes take place.
When The Witcher came out in December 2019, I watched the first four episodes with increasing consternation. Multiple timelines run through the series, and many episodes swap between them frequently. One scene takes place at one time period and the next one takes place, say, a decade later.
At first the time shifts aren’t even perceptible. As the three main characters Geralt, Yennefer, and Ciri are developed separately from each other in back-to-back scenes, there’s no clear indication that they are happening years apart from each other.
After a couple of episodes there are some names, references, or character appearances that start to hint at the time separations, but because this whole time there’s been no real indication of these timelines, they serve to confuse more than surprise.
Clarity creeps in with each episode while the timelines converge more and more, but it personally took me two whole viewings of the first four episodes to concretely piece it together. Now, I’m not always the most perceptive or predictive viewer, but once the timelines do converge at the end of the season, there isn’t an aha moment or payoff for the muddy division of time.
The best bits of The Witcher, the thrilling fights with terrifying beasts, dramatic betrayals, and political upheaval, are punctuated by stretches of confusion. Just as often as I was placidly enjoying a bit of action, I was finding myself in a state of catch-up, trying to put together this temporal puzzle in my brain.
I think it’s perfectly fine to have these separate timelines, and I think it’s cool narrative device to have these characters converge across the series, but it doesn’t need to be hidden.
In the first scene, establish a present time with some text on screen. Just give a year. And then when the show switches to another point in time, note “50 years earlier” or “6 years later” to remove the question. There’s enough to keep track of as it is in that lore-packed series. Just tell us when it’s all happening, please.
The Witcher Season 1 is now streaming on Netflix. Season 2 is expected to arrive Aug. 17.